Printed Material Highlights from the Roslin Collection

With phase I of the Towards Dolly project ending for me, the Rare Books Cataloguer, I thought to look back over the material I’ve worked with and to highlight a few of my favourites from the three different mediums – offprints, rare books and glass plate slides. One of the most interesting things I found when cataloguing this material was the range of topics of interest – the geneticists collected a wide-range of subjects from specifically dealing with animal genetics to ethnography and  botany that opens this material to a variety of researchers.

In the offprint series the two – out of thousands – that I’d like to feature are:

RoslinOffprintDollyUpdateFrom the Roslin Institute offprints, Harry D. Griffin’s article, Update on Dolly and nuclear transfer, Roslin Institute, Edinburgh: Annual Report from 1 April 97 to 31 March 98, (GB237 Coll-1362/4/1848) which discusses the advances in nuclear transfer technology a year after Dolly, the sheep’s birth.


CrewOffprintWJBryanFrom the FAE Crew offprint series, William Jennings Bryan’s closing argument in the Scopes evolution case in Tennessee from 1925. (GB 237 Coll-1496/33 – General Biology 2). Bryan was the prosecuting attorney in the ‘Scopes Monkey Trial’ who argued against the teaching of evolution in schools with Clarence Darrow for the defence.



Two from the rare book collection:


The beautifully illustrated cover contains an interesting map, text and illustrations of the Chinese Langshan fowl in A. C. Croad’s book, The Langshan fowl: history and characteristics from 1899. (Roslin.S.10)




Roslin_S_50-58_7Another beautifully illustrated cover, is a favourite of mine from the nine volume series, The horse : its treatment in health and disease, with a complete guide to breeding training and management, 1905 (Roslin.S.50). Some of the volumes have pop-up style inserts showing the physiology of hooves and mouths layer-by-layer.



And two from the glass plate slides collection:

Ostriches Pigs and PumpkinsThis is one of my absolute favourites from the Roslin glass plate slides collection simply for its oddity – ostriches and pigs in a field of pumpkins with farm houses in the background in the early 20th century. (Coll-1434/1177).



Coffee Ranch in Vera CruzCoffee is a passion of mine and so I was thrilled to find this image of a coffee ranch in Vera Cruz, Mexico in the early 20th century. The image shows a family standing in front of their thatched hut, a man on a horse and two men carrying coffee bean baskets on their back with trees and bushes in the background. (Coll-1434/1103.


Each of these are personal favourites, as well as being a representative sample of the diversity of the collection. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have!

The Hen Who Made History…Nearly

Greenwood photos hen and eggs CROPPED

Edinburgh holds a number of world records in genetics and animal breeding, which, considering its historic significance in the history of the science in Britain, is not all that surprising. Its most famous ‘first’ is of course Dolly the sheep – the first mammal to be cloned from adult cells – although there are many other examples. However, sometimes the ‘almost firsts’ are just as interesting historically, as well as a little poignant, as I found recently when cataloguing the archive of Alan Greenwood, director of the Poultry Research Centre from 1947 to 1962.

Amongst his wonderful collection of photographs is one depicting a hen standing proudly astride crates and baskets of eggs. The caption informs us that the hen is ‘the sister of the hen which laid 1515 eggs in 9 laying years and shared the world’s record.’ This was intriguing enough in itself, but a full explanation wasn’t forthcoming until I came across two typed pages in Greenwood’s collection of draft lectures and articles. Titled ‘So Near and Yet So Far’, this short piece describes the particularly productive life of the chicken named L1641, ‘from which so little and yet so much more was hoped.’

Part of the research carried out at both the Institute of Animal Genetics and the Poultry Research Centre in Edinburgh was concerned with increasing the productivity and economic value of domestic animals by applied genetics and breeding schemes. In the case of chickens, a large aspect of their value clearly lies in the number and quality of eggs they produce. On 10 April 1939 however, a chicken was hatched at the Institute which would push the limits of egg production beyond the expectations of the staff.

Chicken L1641 (as she was wingbanded) laid her first egg soon after the outbreak of the Second World War. From her first year she was a high producer, laying 273 eggs ‘in spite of wartime stringencies’ as Greenwood wryly tells us. Over the next 8 years she produced on average 142 eggs per year. This is high, although not as impressive as the hens which held world records for the number of eggs laid in a single year. In 1915 a white Leghorn hen in Greensboro, Maryland by the name of Lady Eglantine set a record at 314 eggs in one year. A number of Australorp hens in Australia broke this record successively during the 1920s however, with the number of eggs in one year standing at 347 to 354 to 364!

Where Edinburgh’s chicken L1641 excelled, however, was in the total number of eggs produced over a lifetime. By the time she went into moult in the autumn of 1948, she held the joint world record, which stood at 1515 eggs. However, the strain imposed on her calcified and thickened arteries by the moult was too great, and she died before the end of the year. As Greenwood sadly concludes his article, ‘One more egg only and she would have made history.’

Alan Greenwood’s catalogue can be viewed on our brand new website at:

A Sample of the Roslin Institute’s Cloning Research Post-Dolly: 1998 and 2007

Dolly and Bonnie

As mentioned in a previous post, Dolly, the sheep caused a media sensation in 1997 as the first cloned animal using a nuclear transfer process  and so, I thought it would be interesting to highlight several articles that I came across on Dolly and cloning at the Roslin Institute in 1998 and then again in 2006. I wondered what cloning research had developed over the years since Dolly, the sheep’s birth in 1996 and surprisingly, or not, the articles I came across (that evoked Dolly) dealt with the issue of eating cloned animal meat and the ethical debate of cloning humans for medical purposes.

Note:  these four articles are just a sampling of the articles produced by the Roslin geneticists on the  issues, debates and research surrounding Dolly, nuclear transfer, animal and human genetics, cloning purposes (medical, agricultural, genetic conservation, etc..) to illustrate what way being discussed at the time. For more articles on these subject, please consult the Roslin Institute off-prints for 1998 and 2006 at GB237 Coll-1362/4/.

Update on DollyIn the 1998 Roslin off-print bound volumes, I found Harry Griffiths report, ‘Update on Dolly and nuclear transfer’ in the Roslin Institute, Edinburgh: Annual Report April 1, 97-March 31 (GB 237 Coll-1362/4/1848) and Sir Ian Wilmut’s article, ‘Cloning for Medicine’ in Scientific American, December 1998 (GB 237 Coll-1362/4/1897). Griffiths report describes Dolly’s creation by the Roslin geneticists and notes that their breakthrough caused several other groups to ‘take advantage of public interest in cloning to advertise their successes …. Calves cloned from adult animals were reported from Japan and from New Zealand.’ The New Zealand clone was from ‘the last surviving animal of a rare breed’  which highlighted the use of cloning to preserve endangered species. He continues with discussing Intellectual Property issues in relation to Professor Yanagimachi and his colleagues at the University of Hawai’i ‘Honolulu Cloning Technique’ and closes with a couple of paragraphs on human cloning. He notes the UK Human Genetics Advisory Commission and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority’s report ‘Cloning  issues in Reproduction, Science and Medicine’ from 7 December, 1998 which recommends that ‘there should be a continued ban on all ‘reproductive  cloning’ – the cloning of babies – but gives cautious support  to the cloning of human cells for therapeutic purposes.’

IMG_4359Wilmut’s article in Scientific American reports on the how biomedical researchers are developing ways to use genetically modified mammals for medical purposes.  He mentions the sheep, Megan and Morag who were the first mammals cloned from cultured cells. A technique that allows cloned sheep to carry human genes and such animals produce milk that can be processed to create therapeutic human proteins. The sheep, Polly, is a transgenic clone of a Dorset sheep and ‘a gene for a human protein, factor IX, was added to the cell that provided the lamb’s genetic heritage, so Poly has the human gene.

In the 2006 Roslin off-print bound volumes, I found two fascinating articles:– Sir Ian Wilmut’s  ‘Human cells from cloned embryos in research and therapy’ in BMJ Vol. 328, February 2004 and J. Sark, et al.’s  ‘Dolly for dinner? Assessing commercial and regulatory trends in cloned livestock’ in Nature Biotechnology, Vol. 25, No. 1, January 2007.

IMG_4371Sir Ian Wilmut’s article ‘Human cells from cloned embryos in research and therapy’ in BMJ Vol. 328, February 2004 is one of the more contemporary papers in the collection that discusses stem cell technology and human cloning issues. He cites studies of human genetic diseases and how cloned cells ‘will create new opportunities to study genetic disease in which the gene(s) involved has not been identified’, specifically describing work with motor-neurone diseases. Then, Wilmut notes how stem cells could be used in treatments for a variety of degenerative diseases, i.e. cardiovascular disease, spinal cord injury, Parkinson’s disease and Type I diabetes. Finally Wilmut discusses the differences in regulation of nuclear transfer and human cloning in various countries, noting that in the United Kingdom, ‘project to derive cells from cloned embryos may be approved by the regulatory authority for the study of serious diseases. By contrast human reproductive cloning would be illegal.’

Dolly for DinnerThen, in 2007, the article by and J. Sark, et al’s ‘Dolly for dinner? Assessing commercial and regulatory trends in cloned livestock’ in Nature Biotechnology, ‘reviews the state of the art in cloning technologies; emerging food-related commercial products; the current state of regulatory and trading frameworks, particularly in the EU and the United states and the potential for public controversy.’

As you can see by these four examples there are a range of issues and concerns that have been discussed over the years. While advances are made in cloning and genetic modification, there are still ethical debates to be had and more research to be done. In reading over these and other similar articles in the Roslin off-prints, I enjoyed learning about the different uses of transgenic animals.

Geoffrey Herbert Beale

Geoffrey Beale, Wadd birthday albumTwo weeks ago, when we posted about the Lysenko Controversy in Soviet Russia, mention was made of Geoffrey Beale’s interest in and knowledge of the Russian language and scientific history. Beale was based at the Institute of Animal Genetics in Edinburgh from 1947 until 1978 and is best known as the founder of malaria genetics. His personal archive, which takes up some 40 boxes and contains notebooks, correspondence, publications and drafts, is currently being catalogued here in Edinburgh University Library Special Collections, so a brief biography may be in order to shed some light on this humane and fascinating man.

Beale, born in Wandsworth, London in 1913, developed a keen interest in Botany while a student in Imperial College, London, despite his parents’ opposition to a scientific career (he was even made to sit a psychological examination which recommended that he become a tax inspector instead!). In his third year of university, Beale completed a summer course in plant genetics given at the John Innes Horticultural Institute, which would shape the course of his future career. Beale was eventually offered a job at the John Innes, receiving his PhD in 1938 and studying, among other things, the chemistry of flower colour variation until being called up to the army in 1941.

Due to having what he called a ‘smattering’ of languages, including Russian, Beale was drafted into the Intelligence Corps (Field Security) and posted to Archangel and then Murmansk, Russia, where he had the opportunity to improve his Russian. Beale was awarded an MBE for his military service in 1947.

After the war, Beale wondered how he would get back into science after his five year absence. Fortunately, he was offered a job at Cold Spring Harbor working with Escherichia coli. Beale also worked for a spell with geneticist Tracy Sonneborn at Bloomington, Indiana, and it was then Beale developed his lifelong interest in the protozoan Paramecium. The award of a Rockefeller Fellowship necessitated his return to the UK in 1947, where he was duly offered a lectureship by C.H. Waddington, who had just arrived in Edinburgh as director of the genetics section of the National Animal and Genetics Research Organisation within the Institute of Animal Genetics. At the Institute, Beale became close friends with Henrik Kacser and Charlotte ‘Lotte’ Auerbach, about whom he would later write an account, and gained funding to design and build dedicated research laboratories, including the Protozoan Genetics building for his research group. This group worked on the genetics of Paramecium and on protozoan parasites, and attracted visiting scientists from all over the world. Beale was appointed a Royal Society Research Professor in 1963, a position he held until his retirement.

In the mid-1960s, Beale developed an interest in malaria genetics, gaining a grant from the Medical Research Council in 1966. Together with programme leader David Walliker, who would become a renowned malariologist, they established a mosquito colony, built an insectary, collected parasite strains and established rodent facilities for African tree rats. The work of another researcher, Richard Carter, helped establish the parasite genetic markers, and the foundations of genetic analysis in malaria parasites were laid. Later research covered the genetic analysis of drug resistance, virulence and the classification of rodent malarias into species and subspecies. He continued his malaria work during a six month visiting professorship at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, establishing a collaborative research programme with Professor Sodsri Thaithong as well as a malaria research laboratory which achieved World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre status. This phase of Beale’s career laid the groundwork for many other scientists working on parasite diversity and genetics. In 1996 Beale was awarded an honorary DSc from Chulalongkorn University, one of the first foreigners to be so honoured.

Beale married Betty MacCallum in 1949 (they were divorced in 1969) and he would often take their three sons to the laboratory with him on Sundays where they would learn about science and film printing techniques. Beale continued to work at the laboratory every day well after his retirement. After 1998 he began work on a new book on Paramecium to show the advances and new directions of research in the area. However, his health was deteriorating and much of the later writing was done by co-author John Preer. The book, Paramecium: Genetics and Epigenetics, was published in 2008, when Beale was 95 years old. Geoffrey Beale died in Edinburgh on 16 October 2009.

We’ll be posting up items of interest from the Beale collection as cataloguing progresses, with the finished catalogue being mounted online on our newly-launched project website at:


J. R. Preer Jr and Andrew Tait, ‘Geoffrey Herbert Beale MBE’, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, 57: 45-62 (2011)

Geoffrey Beale, ‘Autobiograpy (written July 1997)’, in Coll-1255, EUL Special Collections.

Hermann J Muller (1890-1967), American Geneticist: Radiation and Mutation Studies in the USA, USSR and Edinburgh

Muller LeninContinuing with the Soviet –Edinburgh genetics link, this week’s post focuses on the American geneticist and Nobel laureate, Hermann Joseph Muller (1890-1967) known for his work on the physiological and genetic effects of radiation. Born in New York City, he attended Columbia College for both his undergraduate and graduate degrees focussing on biology and the Drosophila genetics work of Thomas Hunt Morgan’s fly lab and was an early convert of the Mendelian-chromosome theory of heredity — and the concept of genetic mutations and natural selection as the basis for evolution. He formed a Biology Club and also became a proponent of eugenics; the connections between biology and society would be his perennial concern. Muller’s career first took him to the William Marsh Rice Institute, now Rice University  in Houston in 1915, then back to Columbia College in 1918 where he continued teaching and expanding on his work on mutation rate and lethal mutations. In 1919, Muller made the important discovery of a mutant (later found to be a chromosomal inversion) that appeared to suppress crossing-over, which opened up new avenues in mutation rate studies. He was additionally interested in eugenics and investigated After Columbia, he went to the University of Texas and began to investigate radium and x-rays and the relationship between radiation and mutation.  After a period of time Muller became disillusioned with the political situation in the United States and life in Texas and so, in 1932 he moved to Berlin, Germany to work with Nikolai Timofeev-Ressovsky, a Russian geneticist. Initially, his move was to be a limited sabbatical that turned into an eight-year five country stay. Later in 1932 Muller moved to the Soviet Union after being investigated by the FBI due to his involvement with the leftist (Communist) newspaper, The Spark, that he contributed to when in Texas. In Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) then Moscow, Muller worked at the Institute of Genetics where he imported the basic laboratory equipment and flies for a Drosophila lab.Muller Human Genetics USSR At the Institute, Muller organized work on medical genetics and explored the relationship between genetics and radiation in more detail and completed his eugenics book, Out of the Night in which the main ideas dated to 1910. By 1936 Stalin and Lysenko were making it difficult for scientists and geneticists to work in the USSR (see previous post on the Lysenko Controversy) and Muller was forced to leave after Stalin read a translation of his eugenics book.

Muller moved to Edinburgh in September 1937 with c250 strains of Drosophila and began working for the University of Edinburgh. In 1939 the Seventh International Congress on Genetics was held in Edinburgh and Muller wrote a ‘Geneticists’ Manifesto’ in response to the question, “How could the world’s population be improved most effectively genetically?”

In 1940, he moved back to the United States to work with Otto Glaser at Amherst College and consulted on the Manhattan Project as well as a study of the mutational effects of radar. In 1945, owing to difficulties stemming from his Socialist leanings, he moved to Bloomington, Indiana to work in the Zoology Department at Indiana University. In 1946, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine “for the discovery that mutations can be induced by x-rays”.

Muller signature visitors book

In 1955 Muller was one of eleven prominent intellectuals to sign the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, the upshot of which was the first Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs in 1957, which addressed the control of nuclear weapons. He was a signatory (with many other scientists) of the 1958 petition to the United Nations, calling for an end to nuclear weapons testing, which was initiated by the Nobel Prize-winning chemist Linus Pauling.[3]

3 – John Bellamy Foster (2009). The Ecological Revolution: Making Peace with the Planet, Monthly Review Press, New York, pp. 71-72.


The Lysenko Controversy: Soviet Genetics and Edinburgh

Lysenko RussianBritain has been fortunate in the freedom it has enjoyed to carry out scientific research; something which has not always been the case with other parts of the world. The animal genetics archives here are full of individual stories of persecution, government interference and other threats to research and human life. In fact, in the 1930s the Institute of Animal Genetics became a haven for many refugees escaping the rise of fascism (not least H.J Muller and Charlotte Auerbach), but there was trouble on the left side of the political spectrum too.

The Seventh International Congress of Genetics was planned to be held in Moscow in 1937, but interminable delays in the planning process meant that eventually a decision was made to relocate to Edinburgh at the later date of August 1939, where the Congress would be hosted by the Institute of Animal Genetics and organised by its director, F.A.E Crew. The exact reasons for such a delay from the Russians were not made apparent to the Congress’ international planning committee, but it would have been clear to anyone with a vague idea of what was afoot in the Soviet Union at that time.

Trofim Lysenko had been director of the Soviet Union’s Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences since the 1920s, where he claimed to have developed a new agricultural technique which promised to solve the Soviet Union’s agricultural crisis and famines. ‘Vernalisation’ seemed like the magic solution, and Lysenko was hailed as a Soviet hero (although his theory did not produce the results he claimed and was backed by fake experimental data). However, the practice did not produce anywhere near the increase in crop yields that he had predicted. Lysenko’s theories were based on the grounds that characteristics that were acquired by an organism during a lifetime could be passed on to the next generation – a theory which went against evolutionary theory and Mendelism.

Once Lysenko was in a position of power, his influence was disastrous for Soviet scientists. He began a campaign of denouncing theoretical genetics and all biologists who did not hold his views. In 1949, genetics was officially declared ‘a bourgeois pseudo-science’ and all geneticists were dismissed from their jobs and genetics research discontinued. Many were also arrested; some were sentenced to death. One victim of the arrests was Nikolai Vavilov, who was to have been Chairman at the Congress of Genetics in Moscow. Once the Congress was relocated to Edinburgh, Vavilov and some 50 Russian geneticists planned to travel over to present their papers. However, less than a month before the Congress was due to begin, Crew and his organising committee learned that the Russians had been forbidden to come; Vavilov was ultimately arrested and died in prison in 1943. Although the Congress went ahead without the Russian delegates, it was much overshadowed by the outbreak of war across Europe. (In fact, Britain declared war on Germany while the Congress was still in progress, and Crew laboured to ensure that all foreign delegates returned safely home, or else sought refuge elsewhere.)

One British geneticist who took a good deal of interest in the ‘Lysenko Controversy’ as it became known, was Geoffrey Beale, best known as the founder of malarial genetics. Beale, who worked within the Institute of Animal Genetics from 1947 until his retirement in 1978, had a lifelong interest in the Russian language. His personal papers and library, currently being catalogued here at Edinburgh University Library Special Collections, contains many examples of his reading and research into Russia and Russian science particularly. His best known article on the subject was ‘The cult of T.D Lysenko: thirty appalling years’, a review (published in the Science Journal, October 1969) of I.M. Lerner’s translation of Z.A. Medvedev’s book The Rise and Fall of T.D Lysenko.

Lysenkoism remained established in many countries in the Eastern Bloc, and in China until the late 1950s. The ban on genetics research was finally lifted in the Soviet Union in 1964 when Lysenko retired from his post. In Beale’s words, the Lysenko affair was ‘the most extraordinary, tragic and in some ways absurd, scientific battle that there has ever been.’

Dollymania – Seven Days that Shook the World

Dolly the sheep

1997 was quite a significant year for the Roslin Institute with “’Dolly, the sheep, ‘…the first mammal cloned from a cell from an adult animal…generated an amazing amount of interest from the world’s media.” (Griffin, Harry. ‘Dollymania’, University of Edinburgh Journal, XXXVIII: 2, December 1997, GB237 Coll-1362/4/1476). And so, it’s been exciting to find articles in the offprints discussing her and the issues of cloning, biotechnology, ethics – Dr. Grahame Bulfield even wrote a report to Parliament on what this breakthrough means for science!

Harry Griffin, former Assistant Director (Science) at the Roslin Institute in 1997’s article, ‘Dollymania’ (cited above) provides an insider’s point of view of how Dolly was produced and the science and research involved. He writes,

Dolly was produced from cells that had been taken from the udder of a 6-year old Finn Dorset ewe and cultured for several weeks in the laboratory. Individual cells were then fused with unfertilised eggs from which the genetic material had been removed and 29 of these ‘reconstructed’ eggs – each now with a diploid nucleus from the adult animal – were implanted in surrogate Blackface ewes. One gave rise to a live lamb, Dolly, some 148 days later. Other cloned lambs were derived in the same way by nuclear transfer from cells taken from embryonic and foetal tissue.

On Monday, Dolly provided the lead story in most of the papers and Roslin Institute was besieged by reporters and TV crews from all over the world…. Dolly rapidly became the most photographed sheep of all time and was invited to appear on a chat show in the US. Astrologers asked for her date of birth and PPL’s share price rose sharply. President Bill Clinton called on his bioethics’ commission to report on the ethical implications within 90 days and Ian Wilmut was invited to testify to both the UK House of Commons and the US Congress…. Dolly Parton sad she was ‘honoured’ that we have named our progeny after her and that there is no such thing as ‘baaaaaed publicity’. Sadly, we also received a handful of requests to resurrect relatives and loved pets.

IMG_4284In the article, ‘Seven days that shook the world’ by Harry Griffin and Ian Wilmut in New Scientist, 22 March 1997 also describe the reality of the science of cloning in the face of intense media speculation and reportage.

Dr. Grahame Bulfield, former Director of the Roslin Institute, wrote several articles in 1997 on biotechnology, ethics, livestock and cloning. In some articles, he writes generally on the techniques of genetic engineering, genome analysis, and embryo manipulations and provides a biological context of these new technologies. (GB237 Coll-1362/4/1394 – 1400). He discusses Dolly more directly in the article, ‘Dit is pas het begin’ in the Dutch journal Natuur & Techniek, No. 8, 1997 (4/1376) IMG_4266and The Roslin Institute and Cloning an address to the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee in Science in Parliament, Vol. 54, No. 5, September/October 1997 (4/1400). In this particular article he writes specifically about Dolly:

As you know we have been thrown into the middle of public debate recently with a considerable amount of public interest and concern about “Dolly”. IMG_4275Over a period of about five days we had 3,000 telephone calls, 17 TV crews and we basically ground to a halt. We are perfectly aware now of the issues that are raised , and I don’t believe that a scientific organisation like ours can do anything buy try and be proactive in terms of communicating new biotechnology advances to the public and Government and ensuring the issues involved are widely debated.

A game of two halves

Halfsider singleOne of the photographs in the Alan Greenwood collection depicts a chicken. This is hardly unusual in itself, seeing as Greenwood was director of the Poultry Research Centre. However, a closer look reveals that this is no ordinary chicken: it is coloured and shaped differently on each side: in fact, it looks more like two separate chickens stitched together. This chicken is a ‘halfsider’. Halfsiders – also called bilateral gynandromorphs –  are birds whose colour, plumage, size and even gender is different on each side. Halfsiders are most commonly encountered in budgerigars, although they can occur in other birds too, including domestic chickens.

The phenomenon which produces halfsiders is is actually part of a larger phenomenon of ‘mosaicism’. Mosaics are organisms of a ‘patchwork’ phenotype and/or genotype generally only found in domesticated species (although a wild gynandromorphic Northern Cardinal was discovered on the east coast of America in 2009). F.A.E Crew at the Institute of Animal Genetics was one of the first geneticists to write on gynandromorphy in birds, with Greenwood and colleagues continuing to study it at the Poultry Research Centre.

Halfsiders are so interesting for genetics because they contradict the  theory that sexual development in birds and mammals follows the same course, with the embryonic cells being ‘unisex’, the gender being determined at around seven weeks by signals sent by hormones. However, chicken cells apparently ‘know’ which sex they are at the time of fertilisation, and scientists have had to propose an entirely separate model for avian sexual development.

Early explanations for how halfsiders happen usually posited gene mutation or embryo damage in the early stages of cell division, or else the loss of a chromosome.. However, a study in 2010 (Zhao, McBride et al) found that halfsider chickens are in fact nearly perfect male:female chimeras comprised of normal female cells (with ZW chromosomes) on one side and normal male cells (with ZZ chromosomes) on the other side. Therefore, halfsiders appear to result from an abnormal ovum containing two pronuclei, fertilised by two sperm, which then results in both a Z and W chromosome–containing nucleus. As the cells develop, and are subject to exactly the same hormones, they respond according to their own chromosomes rather than signals being given out by the gonads, as with mammalian development. This in essence means that the two ‘halves’ develop entirely separately, at the same time.

Although the phenomenon producing halfsiders is genetic in origin, it is not heritable and so cannot be intentionally bred (in any case, gynandromorphs are nearly always sterile). It is estimated that 1 in 10,000 domestic chickens is a gynandromorph.

FAE Crew’s Off-Prints (1814-1940)

In addition to the off-prints of the various past organizations that made up the Roslin Institute, we have FAE Crew’s collection.  The majority of the off-prints in his collection, found in 39 bound volumes, were written by other authors such as Conrad Hal Waddington, Leonard Darwin, and Alan Greenwood among others and some of the articles were even previously owned by Arthur Darbishire. The non-Crew authored material dates between 1814 and 1936 and Crew’s articles date between the years of 1930 to 1940 and he organized the bound off-prints into series: Fowl (18 volumes- GB 237 Coll-1496/1-18); Birds (2 volumes – GB 237 Coll-1496/19-20); Pigeons (2 volumes -GB 237 Coll-1496/21-22); Genetics General (9 volumes – GB 237 Coll-1496/23-31); and General Biology (8 volumes – GB 237 Coll-1496/32-39). There is a wealth of fascinating articles found in this collection – especially in the Genetics General and General  Biology volumes which show Crew’s wide-ranging interests  including animal genetics, human genetics, eugenics, evolution (both scientific and philosophical), teaching medical students and ethics. A few particular highlights are Major Leonard Darwin’s article Organic Evolution: Outstanding Difficulties and Possible Explanation,  Cambridge University Press, 1921; Darwin

Condemned for Teaching Lies: the following is a speech prepared by William Jennings Bryan for delivery in closing argument for the State in the Evolution Case at Dayton, Tennessee, July 21, 1925;WJ Bryan

and H. Muller’s Lenin’s Doctrines in Relation to Genetics, Academy of Sciences, USSR, 1934.Lenin

In addition to the articles collected by Crew for his research, there is a box of un-bound off-prints authored by Crew himself (GB 237 Coll-1496/40/1-70).  IMG_4260These articles span the years between 1930 and 1940 and discuss such topics as: animal breeding, sterilisation, eugenics, heredity versus environment and other genetic based topics. The last article in the collection is quite interesting since it’s Crew’s thoughts on war when he was a Lieutenant-Colonel in the British Army, Crew and warThe war and ourselves in the Journal of the British Army Medical Corps, 1940 (GB 237 Coll-1496/40/74).

This material, the collected offprints of other scientists, offers a fascinating insight into the research interests of FAE Crew by showing his diverse interests which helped to inform his work as seen in the same collection in his self-authored papers.

‘To sow the seeds of a new science…’ Happy Birthday James Cossar Ewart

Ewart Verlag portraitThe name of James Cossar Ewart (1851-1933) has featured regularly in this blog over the past year or so, but we wish him a happy 163rd birthday for tomorrow (26th November). Ewart, who was Professor of Natural History at the University of Edinburgh from 1882-1927, is best known for his work cross-breeding zebras and horses and for being instrumental in establishing the UK’s first lectureship in Genetics in 1911. The creation of this post was to lead to a bright future for genetics and associated sciences in Edinburgh.

On this day in 1931, Professor F.A.E Crew, then director of what became known as the Institute of Animal Genetics, wrote this heartfelt letter to Ewart, expressing his admiration in no uncertain terms:

Dear Professor Cossar Ewart,

The 80th anniversary of your birthday surely warrants my writing to you my congratulations and to express my sincere hope that you may enjoy many more of these festive days.

I confess I envy you, to live for a long time means very little in itself but to have lived profitably: to have carved one’s name on the rolls of history of a science: to sow the seeds of a new science and to live to see the harvest gathered: these are things well worth the doing.

Happiness and a certain sense of contentment should be yours. It is the wish of those, who like myself are your disciples, that you shall enjoy the knowledge that you have, in a certain sense, achieved immortality. As long as biology exists, so long will your name be quoted.

On this day I send to you my homage and my affectionate regards.

Yours sincerely,

F.A.E Crew

Ewart died in his native home of Penicuik on New Year’s Eve, 1933. His two homes, the Bungalow and Craigybield House, can still be seen today in Penicuik, although both are now hotels.